CyberDiary – 09 January 2011

Mother and daughter cheetah pair by Kurt Bertels

Following hot on the heels of an exciting festive season, the new year has certainly kicked off with a bang. Cheetah sightings have been plentiful, with one that included the mother and daughter pair giving the Gowrie male leopard a real run for his money. We have yet another aspirant tree climber among the Manyelethi male lions. And there’s even been a little love in the air, which will hopefully result in the pitter patter of little feet.

For those of you who have a thing for numbers, this is how many times we saw each of the following animals over the past week: lion – 16; leopard – 21; elephant – 17; rhino – 19; buffalo – 12; wild dog – 0; cheetah – 3.

Don’t forget that you can always refer to the Wildlife Sightings Maps for a more detailed look at what was seen where.

Enjoy!

Monday 3rd

It’s only the first week of January, but this sighting is definitely going to be a tough act to follow.

It all started when we went to follow up on the mother and daughter cheetah pair at Mlowathi Dam. They’d been resting in the open area all morning, and when we returned in the afternoon nothing had changed. A ranger coming to the sighting via the northern boundary spotted three of the Manyelethi males on the break. They were fast asleep  just 500 meters from the cheetahs.

Once the heat dissipated, the cheetahs got active and moved north. Anticipating a seriously dangerous situation for the mother and daughter, we followed with trepidation.  Monkeys alarm calling in the Mlowathi River caught our attention. On following up we spotted the Gowrie male leopard coming out of the river, and heading straight towards the cheetahs.

The cheetahs and leopard spotted each other at the same time, and the Gowrie male immediately went on the attack. The cheetahs easily outpaced the leopard, and managed to keep him at a safe distance while he tried in vain to catch one of them. The situation came to a stalemate when the Gowrie male ended up with one cheetah on either side of him, and no idea which one to go for.

A baby impala broke the tense standoff, when it inadvertently ran right into the middle of the “sticky” situation. Instead of running away from the three deadly predators, the completely unaware little buck ran straight at them.

The younger female cheetah was the first to notice the impala, and immediately started stalking towards it. The Gowrie male also began moving in the same direction, but thankfully the naïve lamb spotted the impending danger and scrambled back to the safety of the bush line.

With the promise of a meal out the window, the three cats turned their attention back to one another. The cheetahs then proceeded to run the poor Gowrie male ragged. Charging in at him and then swerving away at the last minute, as he tried his level best to catch them as they ran through the open area.

Eventually the cheetahs decided to cut the poor leopard some slack and move on, leaving the exhausted Gowrie male to slake his thirst at the dam. He then moved east, away from his tormenters.

As darkness fell, the Gowrie male spotted a herd of impala and stalked towards them. The impala were entering the far bush line, which suited the leopard perfectly. He didn’t waste any time crossing the open area and sliding into the long grass. And as soon as it was completely dark he struck.

Storming in on the herd of impala, he singled out a lamb and ran after it. The panic stricken young impala sprinted away from the leopard, but in its haste to escape it ran straight into the front tire of a parked Land Rover. Momentum carried the buck under the vehicle, and there it remained while the leopard sniffed around at the front.

Deciding that the impala couldn’t possibly have escaped him, the Gowrie male inched under the side of the Land Rover in search of his missing meal. He didn’t find anything, and we were all equally perplexed, wondering where on earth the lamb had gotten to. But when the leopard lay back down at the front tire and started hissing, we suspected he might have discovered its whereabouts.

We reversed slowly, and suddenly the baby impala popped out from under the front tire. The Gowrie male pounced on it immediately, snatching the unfortunate lamb in his powerful jaws.

While this was going on, the Manyelethi males also decided to get active. All three were heading east along the Gowrie boundary, when one of them came to a dead stop and started sniffing the air with intent. Something caught his attention and he ran towards the river. He swooped over the bank and into the river at such a speed, that we only just managed to catch a glimpse of him chasing a leopard up a tree.

And much to everyone’s amazement, the lion went straight up the tree after the leopard.

All we could tell was that the leopard was a female, but as she’d positioned herself on the top most branches we weren’t able to identify her.

The lion then found a baby impala carcass in the tree and started feeding on it. By then the other two Manyelethi males had caught up, but all they could do was sit and watch from the base of the tree as their greedy brother quickly devoured the free meal. With his appetite satiated, the male then descended the tree and all three headed east out of the river.

Earlier in the afternoon we’d seen five buffalo bulls wallowing in Mlowathi Dam, but now they were directly in the Manyelethi males’ line of sight and they didn’t have a clue. The lion trio circled out wide and then came in quickly, as they tried to single out the back bull. The buffalo were caught completely off-guard, and the males managed to single out a bull as planned. They jumped up on its rump just as it went thundering off through the bush. The buffalo managed to shake off the males, but didn’t stop to find the rest of the “dugga boys” (older male buffalo herd). Instead he kept crashing head first through the Knob-thorn thicket, and when he popped out the other side he was still going at full speed.

Luckily for the Gowrie male leopard, the Manyelethi males decided to keep going east. Leaving him to enjoy his easiest kill in ages.

And that was just Monday!

Tuesday 4th

Manyelethi male with buffalo kill by Kurt Bertels

This morning we were heading up to Clarendon in search of cheetah, but were surprised by two of the Manyelethi males from the night before instead. They were fat and fast asleep on the Kruger National Park break. With buffalo tracks in abundance, we went search of a carcass. It didn’t take us long to find the sub-adult buffalo kill under a fallen over False Marula tree.

The two boys had traveled 5km in the night, lost their brother en route, and still managed to bring down a buffalo from a herd.

But the real surprise came when the third brother came strolling in from the south accompanied by a lioness. The approaching pair immediately made for the buffalo carcass. The male was allowed to feed, but the female roused the attention of the other two Manyelethi brothers. The dark maned male approached her, and she lay down in a submissive position and allowed him to mate with her.

With preliminary “introductions” out the way, she was welcomed in the kill area and allowed to feed. The males then spent the rest of the day alternately mating with the female and feeding. By the afternoon they had polished off the entire carcass.

The female – who looked to be one of the two females from Kruger National Park that have been hanging around the Matshipiri River in the last few months – has a very obvious red eye, and we aren’t sure if this is an indication that she’s blind, or if some blood has spilled into it.

The next day the four lions spent the entire day in the Clarendon area, and the male with the scar on his hip mated with her frequently.

We spotted the Kikilezi female leopard and cub in the early afternoon at Piccadilly Triangle. They were lounging in a Russet Bush-willow tree, surveying the gathering impala herds. We returned to the area just after dark to see if they were on the hunt. A brief search around the tree we left them in revealed nothing. But just as we were about to leave, the unique snorting of impala alarm calling filled the air. We flashed the spotlight over to where the impala were, and caught a brief glimpse of the Kikilezi female as she launched herself onto the back of a baby impala. Smashing it into the ground, the female quickly dispatched it with a well practiced stranglehold.

Even before the lamb was dead, the Kikilezi female was heading towards a predetermined destination with her catch. She headed straight past a number of suitable trees, before dragging the impala lamb into a thickly covered Apple-Leaf tree. The Kikilezi female must have known the tree well, because she didn’t falter as she made her way towards it.

After a short rest, the leopard returned to the open area to find her cub. She was careful not to make a sound, and kept to the shadows just in case another opportunity to hunt presented itself. At this point the impala were scattered all over Piccadilly Triangle snorting at shadows, while the Kikilezi female tried to locate her cub.

Coming up to a small thicket, the leopard spotted two sub-adult impala. She sat and watched them while she contemplated her chances of making two kills in one night. She slowly stalked towards the impala, but something spooked them and they ran off before she could get within striking distance.

The female then turned around and headed for another thicket. As she rounded the first Guarry bush, she spotted a baby impala lying half under a log. Without so much as touching the ground, the leopard covered the 15 feet that stood between her and her next meal in a flash. The lamb didn’t even have time to stand up before the Kikilezi female was on it.

She clamped down on the baby impala’s fragile windpipe, and quickly dispatched her second kill of the night. A nearby Transvaal Saffron provided a good hiding spot for the second impala. The female had no sooner secured the kill in the tree, when her cub miraculously appeared out of nowhere. Needless to say the youngster quickly sprang into the tree and started playing with the kill.

Thursday 6th

Today brought with it another night of chaos. In the late afternoon we tracked the Manyelethi male and Styx lioness down to the confluence of the Matshipiri and Sand Rivers. We hadn’t seen the pair in two days, but it definitely looked like they were still mating. Further investigation revealed the sparse remains of a buffalo carcass tucked up under a River Bush-willow.

Finding the pair was only the start of what turned out to be another memorable night with the Manyelethi male lions.

We found a second Manyelethi male during the morning drive, but he only got active at dusk. He headed south down the Mlowathi River, roaring as he went. We heard a reply to his roars coming from the Ngoboswan Donga, and sure enough we found the dark maned Manyelethi male heading in the direction of his brother in the Mlowathi. The first of the males (the one with the scar on his hip) reached lower Mlowathi Crossing, and came across a buffalo cow and bull.

Disregarding the rules of engagement, he went charging in and jumped on the back of the fleeing buffalo cow. The bull buffalo was keen on survival, so he just kept on running without so much as a backward glance.

The Manyelethi male swung off the cow’s back and latched onto her muzzle. Clamping down, he slowly closed off her airways. He sunk his claws into her face and neck, and held on tenaciously as she swung her head in desperation. Unfortunately she couldn’t shake the unwavering male – jokingly referred to as fatty, because he always looks so well fed.

Now we know why.

The lion finally managed to bring the buffalo cow to her knees, and after an epic struggle she gave one final shake of the head and died. Just as the male released his grip on the buffalo’s muzzle, his brother arrived on the scene. Eager to help, now the hard work was over.

Saturday 8th

Yesterday a female leopard lost her kill to three hyenas, and we left another stalking impala on the airstrip. Hunting leopards always make for interesting sightings, but sparring leopards fall into a category all of their own.

And today gifted us with just such an unforgettable sighting.

The incident involved the son of the Dudley female and the large male leopard from Sparta. We’d spotted both leopards in the vicinity of the old airstrip the night before, but at that point neither one had any idea that they weren’t alone.

This morning we heard roaring coming from the same area, so we went to find out what was going on. We found the male leopard from Sparta first, after his roaring gave his position away. He was salivating and looking highly agitated.

Next we found the son of the Dudley female just around the next corner. But he was looking somewhere between intrigued and bewildered, rather than aggressive. The larger, older male was pacing up and down the road searching for the young upstart that had dared to roar in his presence.

The younger leopard kept up a steady symphony of roars, until he suddenly found himself face to face with the large male leopard from Sparta. He stopped mid-roar and immediately put his head down, cowering and letting out a series of soft moans and growls. The large male stood over his young adversary, roared once and made to pounce. Noticing the change in body language, the son of the Dudley female did the smart thing and ran like hell. He raced off into a very thick gully, and when we finally lost sight of him he was still going at full pace through the Acacia thickets.

Satisfied with his dominant display, the large male from Sparta then strutted off down the road.

One of the cheetah coalition by Kurt Bertels

The last highlight of the week came when we found the four cheetah brothers at Clarendon dam. They all looked well fed and in extremely good condition. They slept throughout the day, but still provided guests with the envious opportunity of observing  four adult cheetahs together and in close proximity.

And so ends the first week of the new year. What a start it’s been. Lets hope the animals at MalaMala continue to enthrall us with their charms, prowess and beauty for the remainder of the year, just as they have in this last week

And that folks, brings to a close another fantastic week at MalaMala. You can view the rest of the week’s photos on Facebook or Flikr. Click here to download the PDF version of this week’s CyberDiary.

Until next time,

The MalaMala Ranger Team.

PLEASE NOTE: Animals on MalaMala are named after their territories. This means that a) only the predators have been given names and b) we only know the animals according to the names we have given them, as they are based on the territories within MalaMala’s boundaries.

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